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Prospect rankings and the high school bias

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Something I was thinking about, in the wake of the Jim Callis comments on farm system rankings, is how these farm system rankings end up getting skewed depending on whether an organization focuses more on high schoolers or college players.

Coincidentally, Kevin Goldstein fielded an email sort of on this topic over at the BP blog today:

I've been interested in the Future Shock top prospect ratings and I am curious about the approach you are taking. I've looked very quickly through the reports and counted up 21 `excellent' prospects. More than half were drafted in the last two years, and the vast majority haven't played at higher levels of the minor leagues. There certainly seems to be a bias toward younger players with far shorter performance records at the professional level. That makes it seem as though we are starting with the notion that somebody is an `excellent' prospect and letting their performance disprove the notion rather than the other way around.

Or, put more simply, shouldn't more `excellent' prospects look like Chris Young and fewer like Bill Rowell?

Goldstein responds at some length, indicating that there should be an equal sprinkling of top prospects at the higher and lower levels, and suggesting that top prospects are going to spend less time at the higher levels.

However, this brings up this other point that I think is sometimes overlooked in talking about the strength of a farm system...

If you are focusing on high schoolers and international signings, you are going to have guys who are going to be part of your system's ratings for 4-6 years. Bill Rowell, for example, will probably be contributing to the Orioles' farm system rating until 2010 or 2011.

On the other hand, college draftees, being three-four years older than the high school draftees, are either going to make it to the majors or bust in a much shorter period of time. Drew Stubbs and Tim Lincecum were picked immediately before and after Rowell, but when discussing the "strength" of a farm system, Cincy and San Fran will have the benefit of those guys for only a couple of years...Lincecum, for example, may not be considered a prospect after 2007, given the thoughts that the Giants may fast-track him.

But I have to wonder, is a farm system really stronger because it has highly-rated players in the lower levels that spend more time in the system, and thus boost the system rating over a number of years, as compared to a system that takes college players, and thus has its concentration of highly-rated players in the upper levels, and graduates them to the majors quickly?

This is something I have to think about...